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Islamists in Germany

Günther Birkenstock / ag,ccAugust 10, 2012

A man admitted in court this week that he had donated money to support a militant Islamist terrorist group. How serious is the threat of Islamist terrorism in Germany?

A boy holds an Islamic Jihad flag during an anti-Western demonstration in the West Bank town of Bethlehem (ddp/AP/Enric Marti)
Image: AP

Six hundred and twenty-four euros ($768) is the amount Ramazan B. transferred into the bank account of a member of the "Islamist Jihad Union." The 25-year-old German citizen admitted the charge on Wednesday (08.08.2012) in a hearing at the Higher Regional Court in Stuttgart, and said he had been aware of the possibility that his money might be used to support the organization's militant activities.

According to the public prosecutor, the Islamist Jihad Union wants to rid Afghanistan of all Western influence and reinstate the Islamist emirate of the Taliban. But for this the terrorists need money - and they're trying to raise it from German sympathizers.

Terrorists are fundraising in Germany

Cases like this are no exception for Mikhail Logvinov, an expert on extremism at the Dresden-based Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism. In an interview with DW Logvinov said there were many people in Germany like Ramazan B. who supported these groups financially.

"Europe is of interest to Islamist groups not just as a target for potential attacks, but also as a source of funding," he said, explaining that terrorists send people to Germany specifically for this purpose. He estimates that supporters will donate anything between a couple of hundred to tens of thousands of euros to their cause.

Logvinov says militant Islamists in Germany still pose a considerable threat. But he believes the security agencies are well aware of this, and are responding appropriately, neither underestimating nor overestimating the problem.

In 2010, the Federal Criminal Police Agency recorded 350 preliminary investigations with an Islamist background. However, Logvinov emphasizes that it is important to differentiate between the cases, only a fraction of which dealt with Islamist attacks or plans to stage an attack.

Other cases, he says, might fall under "the umbrella term of terrorism" if they involve people planning to go abroad for paramilitary training. The figure also includes other "less significant preliminary investigations," Logvinov says, or cases like that of Ramazan B. that deal with the funding of terrorist activities.

Terrorist threat is difficult to assess

Between 2010 and 2011, Berlin's internal security agency estimated that there were 2,950 Islamists living in Germany who were ready to commit acts of violence. The federal security agency, working with different parameters, counted around 1,000 individuals with Islamist terrorist connections.

But Logvinov says this doesn't mean that all of these people are actually terrorists. He would classify many of them as sympathizers prepared to commit acts of violence.

Furthermore, information from the same period suggests that more than 250 people travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive terrorist training. "These 250 trained terrorists are the hard core," Logvinov said. "They want to engage in paramilitary activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

He explains that slightly more than half of this group came back to Germany after their training. The president of the German Federal Criminal Police Office, Jörg Ziercke, has spoken of more than 400 Islamists living in Germany, around 130 of whom are regarded as dangerous and capable of carrying out an attack. Ziercke assured the public that they were therefore under surveillance around the clock.

Logvinov, who conducts research into extremism, warns that keeping an eye on people who are regarded as dangerous is not the only thing that is important - the authorities must also be very careful not to lose sight of the radical circles in which they move. He believes that they focus too much on Salafism. Most terrorists, he says, are in contact with jihadi circles in Germany, but not necessarily with Salafists.

According to Logvinov, the security forces take the problem of Islamism in Germany very seriously and have adopted a very responsible approach, but they underestimate the need for preventive measures. "Most of the measures they've adopted focus on police intervention," he comments. "That's not how we're going to get this phenomenon under control."